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State looks to further crack down on 'ghost' guns

ALBANY – New York will erect new gun law restrictions to block the flow of gun components shipped directly to consumers who then put together weapons that are untraceable, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday.

In the latest offering of what has been a slow rollout of his 2020 State of the State address next week, Cuomo said his legislative package this year will include a ban purchases of major gun components online unless those parts are shipped to a licensed dealer for pickup by consumers.

“This common sense measure would ban these untraceable guns and require anyone who wants to build their own firearm to come out of the shadows once and for all," Cuomo said Thursday in releasing his 18th plan of his upcoming State of the State.

The measure comes after a law was enacted in 2019 making it a crime to manufacture, sell, transport or possess 3D printed firearms.

The new plan seeks to get at another aspect of the so-called “ghost gun” industry that often turns to the internet – and often through cryptocurrency transactions – to sell major component parts of weapons to buyers who themselves put together the final parts of a weapon. The Cuomo administration says many of those parts have no serial numbers and are, therefore, untraceable.

Several mass killings in recent years have been carried out by individuals who assembled their own weapons from online components’ firms.

While federal authorities have made a number of arrests of individuals who make and sell gun components without a license, gun control groups say loopholes in the federal law still make the practice a booming business on the internet.

The California-based Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence has been urging states to tighten laws pertaining to the manufacturing, sales and purchase of major component parts for guns.

“These guns pose a grave threat to public safety, and people who are legally prohibited from owning firearms are able to create them without consequences in most states," the group notes on its website.

Under Cuomo’s plan, major components of a firearm, rifle or shotgun would be illegally obtained if purchased online in New York State. The proposal would create additional criminal penalties for major parts sold to unauthorized buyers and mandate all major parts receive a serial number. Those wishing to obtain major gun parts – to be assembled through the use of kits or 3D plans – would have to pick up those components that were first shipped to a licensed gun dealer.

The Cuomo administration said the state has seen an increase in police seizures of untraceable guns put together through what the industry calls “80% kits” that require assembly by buyers in order to make a gun ready to be fired.

The Cuomo proposal would appear to already have momentum with lawmakers in Albany, who start their 2020 session next Wednesday. Members of the state Legislature, under control of Democrats in both houses for the past year, were already talking in 2019 of additional measures needed to address sales of gun components, as well as other new gun control initiatives.

Cuomo has made gun control a policy priority since 2013 when he pushed through the SAFE Act; its provisions included an expanded ban on assault-style weapons, making it more difficult for guns to be purchased by individuals who are mentally ill and requiring private gun sales to be subject to background checks.

Last year was an especially busy one for gun-related measures in Albany. Cuomo and lawmakers jockeyed to press new gun laws onto the books; in the end, a series of approved bills included the 3D gun bill, additional weapon storage mandates for gun owners, additional restrictions on rapid-fire bump stock devices and extending the waiting period for gun purchases in certain instances. Last January, lawmakers quickly approved a measure – signed a month later by Cuomo – to allow family members, school administrators and law enforcement officials to seek a court order to confiscate guns possessed by people deemed to be an "extreme risk" to themselves or others.

The issue of “ghost guns” is not yet a major one in most Western New York law enforcement circles. Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said Thursday that there have been no cases brought in the county against anyone for illegal possession of guns made by a 3D printing process. Flynn also said he checked with the Buffalo Police Department Thursday to find out how many cases there have been for people who illegally make untraceable guns by purchasing components and kits to complete construction of the gun. So far: two.

Still, Flynn applauded Cuomo for the new plan. “Anytime there are illegal weapons out there, especially illegal weapons that don’t have serial numbers on them, those potentially make it more difficult for us to prosecute shootings and homicide. Anything that can help me in solving shootings and homicides to keep our streets safe I’m for it," he said.

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